Convenience Stores Are Calling Me

Reflecting on my personal experiences of racism and misunderstanding while trying to interact with Korean culture. Should this influence the way I watch kdrama?

Last night, I had a dream that I was in Korea.

This was strange off the bat, since that country is fairly low on Asian countries I’d like to visit. Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Cambodia, and Vietnam are a few places that rank highly on my mental list.

I’ve studied Japanese language, history, and customs nearly half my life and it’s something I’m very passionate about.

I appreciate traditional Chinese culture and took half a year of Mandarin – something that luckily has still stuck with me. I also learned simplified Chinese characters before studying formal Japanese, so it helped a lot with understanding Kanji.

That being said, I would have a degree of language survival skills in Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. I know HK’s main language is Cantonese, but there is some crossover from what I’ve heard. Singapore has four official languages: English and standardized Mandarin being two of them.

(Tamil and Malay being the others)

Macau is Portuguese, but I studied Spanish and Italian for a few years.

I once heard Portuguese referred to as “drowning Spanish” by an old HS teacher which, unfortunately, has become my mental associate for it.  The last two countries don’t bother me linguistic-wise, and I just feel like it’d be okay since I would most likely go by tour with guides.

Aside from what I’ve picked up from watching Kdrama, Hangul eludes me.

A still from one of my favorite kdrama series, a show called 'Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo'. It featured tons of Korean slang and cultural references that seem like inside jokes.
A still from one of my favorite kdrama series, a show called ‘Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo’. It featured tons of Korean slang and cultural references that seem like inside jokes.

The language barrier aside, I also don’t know much about the culture or its food. I’ve never had good experiences when I tried making Korean friends in the past so I’ve never really bothered to learn.

That is to say, I didn’t really meet many Japanese people until I started work at a cultural center . But my (unsavory) encounters with Koreans over the years have stained my perception of their country.

It’s terrible to have a forlorn attitude toward a country, but I do.  Just typing this is bringing back memories of a high school friend I had who was half Korean.

Facing Discrimination from Koreans in America

In high school, I had a good friend who was half-Korean.

Her mom spoke the language, but never taught her. Growing up, I was never exposed to Asian people, and enjoyed learning about new languages and cultures.

I wasn’t exposed to much diversity when I attended private school, but when I went to a public high school I relished the opportunity to talk to anyone.

I went over her house with a group of friends and the next day during the lunch period she told me I probably shouldn’t come back over. I asked why, and she told me that her mom didn’t know everyone’s names. I sympathized, as I have a hard time remembering names myself. I’m much better with faces.

She continued to say that her mom called her best friend’s buddies (the entire group) ____’s friends, and that she just called me “that black girl” “the black one” etc.

You get the idea.

That really hurt my feelings, and after that I told her I couldn’t be her friend anymore and we never spoke again.

It wasn’t her fault her mom felt that way, but she did nothing to stand up for me – and why should I be involved in a situation like that? Why put myself in a situation like that, when there are so many more people in this world who won’t be complete idiots?

I’ve tried making Korean friends all those years later, and similar things have always happened. So I stopped trying.

Foreign Residents Facing Discrimination in South Korea

This has been an interesting topic to watch develop over the years.

As global travel and residencies in East Asia become more popular, many are expressing concerns surrounding racism and experiencing discrimination in South Korea by ethnic Koreans.

One study by The Korea Herald reports that “7/10 foreign residents” experience some form of prejudice while living and working in South Korea. Not to mention, long-running Korean-culture YouTubers like Whitney Bae and Hurricane Lala have vlogged about poor experiences they have had in Korea due to the color of their skin occasionally over the years.

Thankfully at least on the surface, those experiences have been few and far in-between.

But, it is something to think about. There are even entire YouTube channels dedicated to capturing the experiences of people with darker skin who decide to live in and explore East Asia.

One channel I really enjoy watching is The Black Experience Japan. Despite the channel name, they cover other places in Asia as well!

It’s great seeing perspectives from people currently living in South Korea and gathering their understanding of events surrounding them – in ways that I can not personally.

The Verdict on My South Korea Dream

So again, South Korea is very low on places I would willingly visit. I’ve never encountered such hostility with other Asian groups, and I usually get along with everyone. It just hasn’t happen with ethnic Koreans yet.

In the dream I had, for some reason I was staying with a friend I’d never met at her apartment.

I’d only been in the country one or two days. I realized I hadn’t visited a convenience store and I was leaving back to the states soon. The friend called a cab for me and gave instructions to the driver to bring me to the airport in Hangul.

I wanted to ask if there was a shop on the way to the airport, and took out my phone and tried to use a translation app. He read it and then started speaking in English.

I told him I wasn’t sure if he spoke English and explained where I wanted to go. He agreed to wait for me and I went into this blue-green building that seemed to be under construction. When I walked inside there was a place for hot foods and the counter you could normally sit at by the window was covered due to construction.

The quintessential Korean convenience store window side quick dining area. As seen in The Heirs kdrama series.
The quintessential Korean convenience store window-side quick dining area. As seen in The Heirs kdrama series.

There was a spot in the corner that sold these novelty items; some sort of cutesy characters on mirrors and other similar things. They were from a brand but I couldn’t read the characters.

The store also had Korean snacks and a lot of baked goods. I grabbed cream puffs and a variety of other similar pastries – one of each. I knew the brand when I was asleep, but upon waking I can’t for the life of me remember what I saw. It was an English name.

I struggled to pay, but I got the goods and took a last look around before leaving.

People were eating in a corner, and others were just doing their own thing -paying me absolutely no mind. No “foreigner stares”. It was nice. I went back to the taxi driver and he drove me another ten minutes (maybe a thirty-minute walk) to the airport. Then I woke up.

I felt strange after that dream.

It made me want to visit Korea even if for a day to try convenience store foods.

There are also some really beautiful neighborhoods and I am a sucker for historical architecture.  I felt comfortable in my dream while there, and that is what is really messing with me.

Maybe I should keep an open mind regarding things like this?

I didn’t plan on writing about some of the things I did. I guess writing is magical in that way. You go in with one idea and it evolves into something else.

I graduated high school in 2010, and the incident I spoke of happened when I was in 10th grade, so 2008. Almost ten years ago. Literally something I hadn’t thought about in years just randomly came out and fit itself into a blog post.

It was cathartic to pen it out to all of you reading.

I probably won’t post about these situations much, as I thankfully don’t have many bad experiences to share. But if I do, know that I hesitated greatly before posting it.

I never want to dissuade anyone from visiting a place based on my experiences. I’m sure South Korea is a really great place to visit, but I’ve just never had good experiences with its people in America.

That was years ago, and things can always change.

This blog is also named “In Asian Spaces” because I enjoy all Asian cultures, even if I mainly focus on Japan.

If you’ve visited South Korea before, what was your favorite food you tried while there? Do you have an experience you would like to share – good or bad?

Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more on Kdrama culture!   

We are also creating East Asian pop culture inspired designs for fellow fans, Visit our Redbubble store if you have a chance – you get cool gear, and it helps support the blog!      

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Author: In Asian Spaces

I write in my personal time and I haven't published much at all. I don't know if that qualifies me as a writer or not, but I'd like to change that. I have a deep passion for travel, cinema and (mainly) East Asian things, but I plan on writing various things to keep it spicy. Let's prosper together ~ よろしくおねがいします。

3 thoughts on “Convenience Stores Are Calling Me”

  1. I’ve yet to visit Korea, but Seoul is beautiful and it’s on my bucket list for sure.

    That said, I LOVE Korean food. If you hand me a jar of kimchi I will probably eat it in one sitting. I put Korean red pepper in everything. Bulgogi is one of my favorite things to eat AND cook. Jajangmyeon is one of my favorite noodle dishes and gimbap is better than sushi. Personal opinion on that one, but yeah….

    I’m really sorry that you had a bad experience with a friend who either didn’t know how to stick up for you or didn’t have the will to speak back to their mother on your behalf. I do know that disrespecting or speaking back to one’s parents in Korean culture is an offense punishable by ostracization, but that still doesn’t excuse your friend.

    It took years for my (white) mom to stop referring to my friends as the “black one” or “that Hmong friend of yours”. True, she couldn’t keep track of the names of people well, but would it have killed her to use ANY other descriptor?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I developed a food allergy a few years ago, but if I hadn’t I would definetly eat tons of Korean food! lol. Have you ever had homemade kimichi? I heard it’s the best thing around.

      Thank you. That just seemed to be a common theme when I tried to make friends with Koreans. I think that friend group was just weird too, so I stopped hanging out with them after that happened lol

      A different time, maybe? My mom did something like that once about a gay friend and I told her to please stop. She eventually did.

      Like

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